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Should coercive control be a criminal offence?  

coercive control

The recent March 4 Justice rally in Perth provided an opportunity for women to call for coercive control laws to be introduced in Western Australia.

What is coercive control and why does it matter?

Coercive control has been called ‘intimate terrorism’. Essentially it is said to occur when a person exhibits control over another person. Examples of coercive control include monitoring and restricting a person’s communications and movements, threatening to harm a person and/or their loved ones if they don’t act in a particular way, excessively restricting access to money, or a course of inflicting stalking or intimidation, or conduct which may give rise to a violence restraining order (VRO).

A common risk factor in family violence

Research conducted over several years has suggested that this type of behaviour is the most common risk factor in domestic and family violence and many experts working in the field suggest that by making such behaviour against the law, victims could be saved from dangerous and potentially escalating situations much earlier.

For example, a review of 372 intimate partner homicides in the UK found many men who kill their intimate partners (and it is almost always men killing women) followed a timeline of escalation which included patterns of coercive control.

As such advocates for law change argue that by making coercive control a criminal offence,

It can successfully do a number of things:

  • Firstly, provide the wider community with a ‘shared understanding and description and language’ for articulating such behaviour
  • Secondly, criminalisation would demonstrate the strongest social denunciation of these behaviours.
  • Thirdly, lives could potentially be saved through earlier intervention of the legal process when this behaviour starts to occur in a relationship on a regular basis.

However, interestingly, support for criminalising coercive control is not shared by all family violence researchers and advocates with many noting that it is difficult to gather evidence with regard to coercive control.

There are also concerns regarding potential unintended effects of criminalisation including the use of coercive control offences against victims of domestic violence as well as the poor history of protective criminalisation for marginalised groups including indigenous women and women with disabilities.

Others have raised concerns that laws can end up being meaningless, because family and domestic violence is an incredibly complex, toxic dynamic, in which victims, on some occasions, are either not capable of identifying specific types of abuse, or not willing to.

The United Kingdom and Ireland have both implemented coercive control laws in recent years with some success. However, implementation of the laws was coupled with extensive training and consultation, to ensure that first responders, police, prosecutors and support workers, fully understand coercive control and how to deal with situations where it is present so that laws can be enforced justly.

Lawmakers must therefore proceed with caution.

Coercive control laws in other states and territories

Around Australia coercive control laws currently only exist in Tasmania and the laws relate mostly to financial and emotional abuse. South Australia is currently working to implement a law that would criminalise coercive control. If this legislation is passed it would likely hold tough penalties for offenders.

In New South Wales, draft legislation is currently before Parliament.

Queensland, Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Victoria and the ACT are yet to act on the issue.

About the Law Offices of Andrew Williams 

Andrew Williams has extensive experience in a wide range of violence related matters that come before the courts. He has acted on a large number of cases involving domestic and family violence and is well equipped to represent clients on these matters.

If you find yourself facing a violence related charge, contact an experienced criminal lawyer at the Law Office of Andrew Williams on (08) 9278 2575 to attain advice and representation or enquire online today.

PLEASE NOTE: The material in this blog post is for informational use only and should not be construed as legal advice. For answers to your questions regarding this or other topics, please contact a professional legal representative.

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